PLUCKED from near obscurity to one of the biggest corporate jobs in India, Nitin Paranjpe
could not believe his ears when he was appointed CEO of Hindustan Unilever (HU).
It could not have come at a more inopportune time. A regional sales manager at the time, he was in a small village in Bihar state selling soap and soup, two of the company’s biggest staples, to a local wholesaler when the call from head office came.As he leans back in his executive chair in a corner office on the sixth floor of the imposing Unilever HQ in Blackfriars, London, Paranjpe, now the group’s chief operating officer, fondly recalls the incident with a broad smile.
“It was like a scene from a movie,” Paranjpe recalls. “I had gone to Bihar on a company visit. I was sitting in a wholesaler’s shop when someone came running over and said that I
needed to come back to the office.” Paranjpe had no idea what the call was about and was told very little when he made contact. “He (the person in the office) said you need to come back (to Mumbai). I said there’s no flight – until next morning. He just said, ‘make an effort.’” Resilience and quick-thinking are good qualities in any leader, and it is a sign that Paranjpe possesses these qualities, as he managed to make it to Mumbai for a formal meeting at 8am with Unilever bosses. Weary-eyed, he met the head of the region and the CEO of HU and was told he was not only taking over HU but was responsible now for the company in all its territories across South Asia. “I was elated, I was excited but it happened out of the blue,” he says.As Unilever’s COO, he’s effectively the number